It was nearly a very good performance today by City as they brought the curtain down on their pre season programme with a 0-0 draw at the Cardiff City Stadium against Serie A side Parma, but three goals from their five warm up matches tells it’s own story. Yes, it is true to say that these matches tend to count for little or nothing when the serious stuff gets under way and that, more than any other time since 2005/06 when Dave Jones first took charge, we have had to start a campaign virtually from scratch because of the number of new players required, but I think Malky Mackay must still be a little concerned about the lack of fire power his side has shown so far.
At least there were some chances created today – not bucketloads of them by any means. but there was enough good passing and movement to suggest that the goals will come once our strikers get a little more match sharp. What was most encouraging for me was that we looked more of a complete midfield than we did at most stages of last season. While allowances have to made for the fact that in terms of general preparedness, Parma were probably at the same sort of stage we found ourselves in for the Celtic match, sides from the continent often prove to be better at keeping the ball than their British opponents, but I thought we were the stronger side in the middle of the park today and from that base we really could and probably should have gone on to win the match.
I thought there were some good individual performances from our midfield four today. Anybody watching Peter Whittingham’s display would have found it unrecognisable from the diffident stuff he used to turn in two or three years ago. It’s becoming clear that Whittingham is going to have a very important part to play in our season and today it looked like he will be up to the challenge – it was a complete performance from him as he worked hard defensively, passed well, showed a few moments of class and fired in a superb shot which the Parma keeper found too hot to handle – there was even a deserved booking for a cynical foul!
A recurring theme from some fans so far has been the lack of width we have played with before today, well that was addressed to some degree by the performance of Craig Conway who looked what we had been told he was – a good quality footballer without scintillating pace, but with the ability to deliver a telling cross. After being slightly underwhelmed by what I had seen of Don Cowie in a City shirt before today, I thought he looked the part against Parma – if you are expecting him to play down the right like Chris Burke did, then you are going to be disappointed because that’s never been his game, but, with Kevin McNaughton seemingly given more licence to get forward from right back, I don’t think we need an orthodox right winger. Cowie covered plenty of ground and did a lot of unglamorous defensive stuff, but he also showed that he is a good technical player who can put in quality crosses when he gets to the byeline – he looks a good “all rounder” to me and they’re hard to come by at Championship level. Finally, there was a bright perfomance playing in an advanced midfield role by Joe Mason – I enjoyed watching him today, he’s a thinking footballer.
With about ten minutes to go, Mark Hudson played the sort of hit and hope pass out from the back that we saw all too much of last season. The ball drifted harmlessly out of play for a goal kick and I found myself thinking how few such hoofs upfield I had seen over the previous eighty minutes or so. Maybe it’s a bit early yet to be coming to too many conclusions, but football under Malky Mackay looks like it could be better to watch than it was under Dave Jones. While the option of the long ball forward was definitely there while Rudi Gestade (who, although not the finished product, looked useful in the air and quite neat with his feet) was on in the first half, the preference seemed to be to play the ball out from the back – David Marshall (who made a superb early save from a close range header) always seemed to be looking to play the ball short or throw it out – the long boot upfield looked to be his least preferred option. With City hitting the Parma woodwork twice (three times, if you include an effort by Earnie dubiously flagged for offside), they were justified in thinking they were hard done by – there was a lot to be encouraged about today, let’s hope the goals start flowing when the real stuff starts next week.
Finally, I should mention the EGM which took place on Thursday in which the conversion of some of the club’s debts into shares was ratified by shareholders. Michael Isaac, Steve Borley, Paul Guy, Mike Hall and the Malaysian investors all waived loans (or parts of loans) to the club in return for more shares (the Malaysian investors now have a 49% shareholding) and the club’s debt level has been reduced by £9 million as a result – more details on the EGM can be found here and here.by The other Bob Wilson
After days of waiting for an international clearance document to arrive from Turkey, Kenny Miller finally signed for City yesterday and made his debut in the 1-1 draw at Yeovil. Also making his first appearance was striker Rudi Gestade who had scored the only goal in the win over Charlton in Spain when he appeared for us as a trialist – Gestade completed his Bosman free transfer move from Metz on Monday. Gestade has the honour of being the first pre-season trialist we have signed in ages (I don’t think we signed one under Dave Jones), but there might be another one this year because former Colchester, Birmingham, Derby and Hull striker cum winger Craig Fagan played for the first hour or so at Huish Park.
Fagan was released by Hull after an injury hit season which saw him make his first appearance of the campaign for the Tigers in their 2-0 defeat at Cardiff City Stadium in September. He featured in the next four matches, but that was it after injury struck before the season was two months old. As someone who has spent a fair bit of his career as a Premiership player, the twenty eight year old Fagan could be a useful addition to the squad, but there must be some doubt as to whether he is fully over his fitness problems which included a broken leg courtesy of Newcastle’s Danny Guthrie in 2008 as well as serious knee and back injuries sustained since then.
As for the game at Yeovil, well it certainly sounded like an improvement on the Celtic and Bournemouth matches in the first half as City dominated proceedings and took the lead after about a quarter of an hour when Peter Whittingham scored with a classy volley after being picked out by a quick thinking Don Cowie from a corner. However, there were tell tale signs that City were losing their grip on the game as the home side stepped up the pressure in the closing stages of the first half. This trend continued after the break and Max Ehmer scored a simple equaliser in the fifty second minute from an excellent Gavin Williams free kick. Although understandable in the circumstances, the wholesale changes made by Malky Mackay in the second half of our four matches so far has tended to disrupt any fluency we were showing and it seems last night was no exception as we ended up with an unbalanced team featuring four strikers (Earnie, Miller, Gestade and Joe Mason). Hardly surprisingly, we ended up hanging on to the draw somewhat as Tom Heaton was forced into a flurry of late saves.
The biggest single thing to strike me so far about our games is that, under a manager whose Watford sides scored a total of one hundred and thirty eight league goals in the last two seasons, we have scored just three in four matches (three of them being against lower division teams). With our top two strikers unavailable for most of the time, this isn’t a huge cause for concern, but it is noticeable how few chances we are creating. I watched twelve minutes of highlights from last night’s match on the official site earlier this morning and, apart from the goal, a good effort from Cowie which drew a fine save from the keeper and an effort just over by Whittingham, we didn’t really threaten. It was more of the same from what I saw of the Charlton and Bournemouth matches and it certainly was against Celtic when we barely had a shot after the twenty minute mark. To be fair, there was some good interplay in midfield and it would be unfair to expect so many new players to hit the ground running immediately, but the truth is that, on chances created so far, we’ve done quite well to score three!
One last thing, it seems another member of the Watford back room staff has joined us. Iain Moody, their Head of Operations has been reported as having moved to Cardiff – if you are wondering what a Head of Operations does, then this piece explains it.by The other Bob Wilson